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8 Ways to Save Time or Money Christmas Shopping
By Joan Whetzel
Spread that Christmas Shopping Out Over the Whole Year
Christmas Season comes but once a year, which may be a good thing when it comes to the pockebook. It's difficult to buy presents for everyone all at once without taking out a loan or going into debt and wondering how we're going to pay it off. It can lead to stressing out over finances instead of enjoying the holidays. Maybe it's time to simplify and either spend less or spread the spending out over time as a sanity saver. Here are a few ideas to help save money and time at Christmas, and maybe a little time as well.
1. Shop After Christmas Sales & Other Sales
Shopping after-Christmas sales is a no-brainer. Everyone does it already. Besides purchasing cheap Christmas decorations and wrappings, shoppers love to buy merchandise that remained on the racks and shelves, then saving their finds for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other events throughout the year. If you find an item or two that you'd like to give for Christmas next year, then buy it and begin your 2012 Christmas stash. The same thing goes for other sales throughout the year. If you find an item that would be perfect for someone on your list, buy it and set it aside.
There doesn't have to be a sale to save money. You now those monthly coupon mailers? Go through them. Some coupons may suggest certain people on your list, carry those coupons with you. Next time you're in the vicinity of one of those stores, go inside and look around. Then if you find a great gift, and the coupon applies, you're one more Christmas gift down.
2. Shop Year Round
The above idea applies to non-sales shopping. In fact, when out shopping for everyday shopping, keep an eye out for items that you know friends or family would love, buy it now. It may not be on sale, but you have it, and it's not marked up for Christmas. And it's one less gift you have to shop for at Christmas. And you don't have to figure out how you're going to pay for if after Christmas. If you do the early Christmas shopping routine enough, you could get as much as 50% or more of your gifts bought before November.
Layaway went out of style beginning in the 80s, when banks made it so easy for everyone and his dog to get credit cards. Unfortunately, credit cards have gotten too many people into too much debt. Save yourself the grief and the 20% (or greater) interest rate grief as well. The good news is that some stores are beginning to offer layaway plans again. For about $15 and a partial down-payment, you can open up a temporary layaway agreement, give them one or more items off the shelves that you wish to purchase, then make weekly payments for up to 8 weeks until the items are paid off. No interest. The agreement ends when the items are paid off.
NOTICE: This is only a general setup of how layaway agreements work. Please check with each store to find out the specific details of their individual layaway plans. Don't let yourself get caught off guard because you didn't bother to read the details before signing the agreement.
You can do this any time of year, not just at Christmas. But doing it at Christmas may keep you from maxing out your credit cards and stressing yourself out even further. Here's a list of at least some of the stores offering layaway plans: Burlington Coat Factory, Hallmark, Kmart, Marshals, Sears, T J Maxx, Toys R Us, and WalMart. You might also want to check out elayaway.com to locate online companies with offering layaway.
4. Thrift Stores, Resale Shops & Garage Sales
Don't forget thrift stores, resale shops and garage sales. You might find some really nice items at your neighbor's garage sale or at the thrift stores and resale shops that people are "re-gifting" so that they can make room for this year's Christmas presents. You may even find something that you know someone on your list has been looking for. And chances are great the prices will be extremely good. When the recipient asks where you got it, he or she doesn't need to know you got it at the Good Will store or at your neighbor's garage sale. Just coyly say "I have my sources" and leave it at that.
5. Catalogs and Online
Don't just throw away all those catalogs you get all year. Scan through them from time to time (waiting for your kids to get out of school, at the doctor's office). Ordering from these virtual stores can get you some unique gifts. Yes, it'll cost you shipping and handling, and taxes with a few of the catalogs, but it will save you time and gas to have the gifts delivered to your door. If you don't mind one extra cost, you can have them gift wrap your gifts too. As long as they're not oversized, extremely heavy, or oddly shaped.
6.Gift Grab Game
Instead of buying gifts, my family gives items we already own. Every year at our family get together we are asked to wrap something we made or some nice item we think the others would like but that we are finished using (gently, of course). These presents go into a central pile. Everyone takes turns rolling 2 dice until a "six" is rolled. The person rolling the six chooses whether to unwrap one of the gifts from the gift pile, or to steal an opened gift from someone else. Once they've rolled their six they're out of the rolling, unless their gift is stolen. In which case, they get to steal a gift from someone else or open a new gift.
Gifts may change hands a number of times, but can only be stolen by the same person 3 times; on their 3rd steal it remains theirs. Play continues around the room until there are no more gifts left to open. Gifts have included: Some of the figurines my dad gave to my mom when they were dating, a Family Tree bound in a leather binder, CDs from our individual collections (turns out we have similar interests in music and these exchanges allow us to try out new artists), homemade cookies from one of my nephews (who knew he could bake cookies?), original artwork from some of the artists in the family. If you don't have something, using your talents can often be greatly appreciated.
7. Go Homemade
Again, sometimes the homemade gifts are the best ones. You could bake goodies, they're perennial favorites for both the givers and receivers. But if you have talents in other areas, why not include some of these ideas in your gift giving arsenal. Best thing is that they can be created throughout the year, which spreads out your time and money commitment. Gifts in this area might consist of quilts or crocheted afghans, paintings or drawings, photos, wood carving or wood burning items, handmade jewelry, homemade bookmarks (laminated), homemade candles and soap. Wherever your talents lie, use them to create a one-of-a-kind gift for someone special in your life.
For your children's teachers, why not give them gift certificate from their favorite teacher supply store or a gift box of items they need for their classroom. Or find out about upcoming classroom projects, then provide the teacher with as many of the ingredients to perform that project as you can afford.
8. Offer Your Services
There's always someone in our lives that we have trouble buying for. Maybe we aren't close enough to them to know they're likes and dislikes (elderly neighbor, secret Santa). Maybe they already have everything they need (like my parents) and don't want to fill up their small houses with more stuff. For that neighbor who has trouble getting out, take the time to ask if you could spend a weekend afternoon helping them wrap their presents. Then bring along some of your own wrapping supplies and spend a pleasant afternoon with a neighbor. It may even become an annual event that you both look forward to.
For that friend or family member that doesn't want more stuff, wrap up a coupon that provides the gift of a free homemade dinner, either at your house or at theirs, on the night of their choice (clear your calendar to accommodate them). And if it's at their house, clean up is provided by you for free. They not only get a free meal, they get to spend some time with you as well, which is probably the real gift.
About all those gifts you've been collecting all year? Begin a collection system of dark bags and boxes, labeled with the recipient's name, each with its own tally sheet inside. Every time you add an item to the person's stash, add the item to the list along with the price. That way when that person's stash has reached your spending limit, you'll know it straight-away. You won't need to do the list for everyone, only those you buy multiple gifts for. For individual gifts, find a way to label the gift with the recipient's name and collect all these single gifts in one bag or box (or two or three). Next, you'll need to devise a hiding place system. Traditionally closets have been used, but if you have nosy family members, you may have to get tricky - hide them in attics, under beds, the basement with the scary heater, rent a storage from September through early or mid December, or keep them moving. You're going to have to get creative depending on how resourceful your gift seeking snoopers get.
Christmas doesn't have to be about the price of the gift or the number of gifts under the tree. Mostly it's about showing that you really thought about the other person. And sometimes it's simply a matter of spending quality time with someone else. It's time to get away from giving "stuff" just to be giving presents, and drifting more toward gifts that really mean something to the recipient, the kind that show what they really mean to you